My path to technology

A blog entry for Ada Lovelace Day

Yesterday I was nearly exploding with the news that I'd had my first few PHP successes.  Just small things, but it felt so satisfying to troubleshoot an issue and muddle through the fix.  It took lots of websearching and reading, a brief convo with an IT tech at my hosting provider, and lots of trial and error.  But it worked.  Woot!

In general, lately, I'm finding huge satisfaction with acquiring new technical knowledge, much of which has come my way through my work in digital humanities.  My capacity to learn new things seems to be increasing with each new step, and I'm intuitively becoming more capable at describing, managing, and troubleshooting technology.  The thrill that accompanies each of these successes is not something I would have expected.  How fun it is to learn--even as late as my 30s--that I like tech.

Along with my recent successes in the technical realm, I've been part of numerous discussions about the gender gap in technology-related fields.  As a result, I've reflected on my own path in this direction. I can't point to any one thing that steered me away from math and hard science, except my own deep belief that I wasn't good in those areas.  I felt no thrill when faced with a math problem.  I merely endured Physics.  The quantitative elements of Chemistry and Economics were my least favorite.  It's possible that I simply wasn't good at any of those things when I was younger, and my stronger skills in writing and memorization steered me towards Biology and Journalism.  Or it may be that I simply wasn't validated for performing well in my Math or Science classes in the same way that I was when I did well in English.  It's hard to say.

But I think the real reason probably lies with being more often rewarded for what came easily (such as writing a story) and less often rewarded for what came hard (like a well-argued geometry proof).  My own experience leads me to believe that my male peers often received praise that affirmed the skills needed to work through a difficult problem set, whereas us girls were not encouraged in that same way.

I also suspect that much of the reason I steered clear of math & science was that I wanted to be attractive to boys, and winning such attention meant more to me than the satisfaction of an elegant lab writeup.  Although I typically dated the kind of boys who liked brainy girls, I still knew, deep-down, that the girls who were 'too smart' were far less likely to have a date on Friday night.  My being raised Mormon particularly reinforced the notion that a 'soft' career choice was a better one, because the more important goal was to be a wife and a mother.  Mormon women are strongly discouraged from full-time work, or even pursuing graduate study, unless it is after their children are grown.

I'm not sure yet where my growing passion for technology will take me, but as I move forward on this path it's exciting to add new tools to my tech-kit and to find such satisfaction in problem-solving.


bran (delion) said...

My high school guidance counselor told me I 'wouldn't need' to take math beyond Algebra to satisfy my credit requirements. She recommended I take choir or that wonderful bastion of American gender reinforcement, Home Economics. I didn't want to take Home Ec, but she assured me, I would glean useful knowledge from it. I asked my male friend what she said after his meeting with her. She told him to take Calculus and to consider taking Physics. Home Economics didn't enter into the conversation.

EmilyCC said...

I love watching you on your technology journey, Jana (and not just because I benefit TONS from the knowledge you acquire).

Thanks for the Ada Lovelace link!

belleshpgrl said...

Math and science was a strong point of mine and I was really lucky to have parents, especially my dad, who supported me and cultivated it. I regret not going into it as a career because I'm struggling in a soft field- the non-profit arts.

sarah dixon said...

The "mormom Church" actually stresses that it is important for girls as well as boys to get a good education.They just want us to have great family units whatever that may be.

amelia said...


the "mormon church" has a horrible track record of saying one thing with their words and meaning something altogether different as evidenced by their structure, their leadership choices, their culture, and their rather coercive identity formation programs. you might not call young women's and personal progress "identity formation programs" and you may not think they're coercive, but from where i sit (a 35-year-old active mormon woman who completed her personal progress with flying colors and graduated seminary with perfect attendance), that's what they are. i more than once have heard the line that women should get their education so that they can step up and provide if something happens to their husband. i have often heard that women should pursue educational and career goals that lend themselves to being primary caregivers rather than breadwinners; this advice frequently includes designating the kinds of "soft career" choices jana references--teaching, childcare, nursing, etc. (please note, i am not at all denigrating those professions; they are difficult and challenging and demanding and i am incredibly grateful for those who step up and pursue those careers; that, however, does not change the fact that they are traditionally "female" career choices.)

not only is this kind of advice given by the flawed members of wards (something that mormons so often try to pass off as being a mis-representation of the church's real stance which is oh-so-much more enlightened), it has been enshrined institutionally at general conferences, in the ensign, in young women's program manuals, in lesson manuals for both YW and RS, in approaches to girls' camp (really? stupid skits? really? a mile hike qualifying as a "wilderness survival experience"? uh huh; such things would never fly at a scout camp. not saying i like the scout program; just pointing out the wild discrepancies between the youth programs available for boys and girls), etc. and then there's the ridiculous auxiliary programs like enrichment night. enrichment. which usually translates to more "soft," feminine pursuits. book clubs. sewing. scrapbooking. cooking. blah blah blah. even when they have an "enrichment" night when they try to teach a real skill (changing a tire, home accounting, etc.) it's usually a compensation for the way in which the church and its culture and it's brilliantly enlightened leaders screwed up women in the first place.

so yeah. every once in a while a church leader throws women a bone about how they should pursue an education. but that doesn't compensate for hundreds of thousands of words and countless hours of "instruction" that attempt to manipulate women into being women (and that's not even touching on the fact that the church tries to say that gender is eternal, which implies that we don't need to be taught how to be women, while actively pursuing a course of "instructing" women how to be women. i call bullshit.


(sorry for the threadjack rant, jana. it's probably fairly obvious how i feel about this issue...)

C. L. Hanson said...

That's cool that your early experiences haven't kept you from tech forever. :D

Hellmut said...

I would say that the LDS Church pays lip service to the education of girls.

In fact, there have been statements by prophets, seers and revelators during my life time that women who pursue a rigorous education, just in case they have to provide for themselves, may have created a self-fulfilling prophesy and are themselves to blame when their husbands abandon them.

Of course, Mormons will not admit that in an open forum but inside Mormon chapels it is pretty well understood that female careers are a bad thing.

To really understand what Mormonism is, we need to look at how Mormons speak to each other, not the statements destined for PR purposes.